My Appalachian Trail thru-hike

at log

I wrote the following when I first began preparing for my thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail from March 31, 2017 to August 28 of the same year. I’m keeping it in its original form as a reminder of what I thought at the beginning of my hike. My views changed, as did a lot of the reasons why I completed the hike, but the reasons why a person starts such an endeavor are important, regardless of what their reasons are for following through. 

I’m hiking the Appalachian Trail.

I’m a little fuzzy on most of the details right now, but I’m sure that, starting in the Spring of 2017, I’m going to start walking from Springer Mountain, Georgia to Katahdin, Maine, and I’m not stopping until I either get there, or my legs give out.

“Thru-hiking,” as it’s called, means covering the approximately 2,200 miles between those two points in a single trip, carrying whatever you may need on your back for the whole time. The AT runs through thirteen states, countless mountain peaks and an estimated five months of hiking time across some of the roughest terrain in the country.

But I’m gonna do it.

And, I’m keeping a blog about the hike and the preparation for it so you can follow along.

There are a lot of reasons why I want to hike the Appalachian Trail. Many of them are small and really just things I want to check off an ever-growing bucket list. This includes stuff like “camping through a snowstorm,” “close encounter of the bear kind,” or “cowboy-camp under the Milky Way.” You know, little things. There are three big reasons why I want to do this, though.

One– I like backpacking.

This one’s kind of self-explanatory. I just like hiking. I don’t think anyone would plan to do something for almost half a year if they didn’t enjoy it. I like the thrill of scrambling up a tough peak and seeing what’s beyond it. I like camping out in a quiet forest with no other people around for miles. I like the feeling of throwing down a pack after a long day of hiking and the feeling of accomplishment that comes with it. My first real backpacking trip was in Boy Scouts. After a series of training hikes, I joined seven other scouts in a Philmont trek and I was hooked ever since. After that trip, my dad handed me a copy of A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson and I knew I’d have to hike the AT one day.

Two– I want to test myself.

I’ve spent the last four summers as a counselor at Greenwood Trails summer camp in Winsted, CT, which is actually just a short drive from the Appalachian Trail. I was the nature and outdoor skills counselor there, and was dubbed “Nature Nick.” I even planned a few trips on the AT and a few other sites around Connecticut. I’ve always believed that I was good at more outdoorsy pursuits, at least more so than a lot of the people I hung out with. It’s become kind of my thing among friends. “Oh yeah, this is Nick. He hikes.” I’m not sure if that’s really how my friends talk about me but it’s kind of how I see myself. This trip is my way of proving to myself that I’ve earned that nickname and reputation. Am I really as good as I think I am? Can I take it? I hope so, because Dad’s been telling everyone he meets that I’m planning to hike it. Thanks, Dad, no pressure.

Three– It’s a way of moving onward.

I’ve reached a point in my life where a lot of things are changing. I just graduated from the University of Connecticut (Go Huskies!) and I’m trying to figure out what I want to do with my journalism degree. I love being outdoors and writing, so I figured hiking the Appalachian Trail and keeping up a blog about it would be a good way to merge those interests. This is probably the last time in my life where I’ll just be able to drop off the map for five months before I have to get a real-person job that doesn’t involve tie-dye shirts, campfires and hiking as a primary mode of transportation, so I want to make the most of it, and share my experience.

Also, I feel like this will help me move onward from something a little more dark in my life. Early in 2015, I was diagnosed with large B-cell non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, centered in my left tibia. Before treatment, walking was sometimes difficult and even the slightes pressure caused shooting pain. Before the official diagnosis came through, I was scared I would lose part of my leg, or at least a significant part of my ability to walk. Treatment sucked. Imagine the worst flu you’ve ever had. Now, imagine you had it for about five days every other week, and even when you aren’t curled up on the couch hating everything, you feel fatigued, nauseous and just kind of “off” all the time, for a whole summer you would otherwise be spending as a counselor at summer camp. Also, your hair falls out, which sucks. One of the things that kept me positive during this was a weekly hike I went on with my friend, Lauren, once the worst of the chemo treatment passed. We hiked all over Connecticut, and even if I wasn’t moving as fast as I would have liked, I was doing something, moving onward. Just getting up and walking, climbing one of those, albeit small, mountains showed me that I wasn’t done, that I wasn’t giving up. Not yet. Not today. For me, hiking the trail is a way for me to prove that cancer didn’t beat me, didn’t change me and isn’t going to stop me from doing the things I love.

I leave in just four short months and there’s lots of preparation to be done in the meantime.

The trail starts now! Onward we go!

UPDATE (03/22/2017): I leave for the trail in a week! There are a bunch of new stories in my blog about preparing for the hike, so be sure to check those out.